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Delivering Hope and Housing

Posted on Nov 22, 2022 in:
  • Master Builder magazine

By MBAKS Content Strategist James Slone

Everett-based Pallet is helping lift people out of homelessness one shelter at a time.

Cabins at Chandler Village in Los Angeles
Cabins at Chandler Village in Los Angeles

Homelessness is a national problem. While a lot of the media focus has been on California, all major cities in the U.S. have large homeless populations, especially where affordable housing is scarce. Depending on who’s counting, King County alone has between 13,000 and 40,000 unhoused people.

For many individuals, past run-ins with the justice system and struggles with addiction or mental health make it difficult to utilize traditional shelters. But a temporary shelter that is clean, safe, and private can help them attain stability, access care, and move towards a permanent home.

That’s where Pallet comes in.

A public benefit corporation based in Everett, Pallet’s mission is to create “private and safe spaces for anyone transitioning from homelessness to more permanent housing.” How? By fabricating private sleeping cabins with lockable doors that can be easily assembled anywhere.

Composed of fiberglassreinforced plastic, foam insulating cores for shelves and panels, and aluminum framing, Pallet cabins are less expensive than traditional shelters and can be deployed quickly and cheaply to create rapid-response villages anywhere in the country.

For Amy King, CEO and founder of Pallet, the company’s business model is not the end point but the beginning. “Our ultimate goal,” she tells me, is “a world where no one goes unsheltered.” But she’s quick to add that others will “have to step in and innovate to make that happen.”

“People Are the Bottom Line”

Pallet grew out of Square Peg Construction, a company Amy founded with her husband Brady in 2014 to employ formerly incarcerated and homeless people in homebuilding. While helping employees reenter the workforce, they realized that many struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This made staying in congregate shelters, where residents reside together in a shared space, virtually impossible.

Years before, the Kings had explored the possibility of deploying private shelters for families displaced by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps, they thought, the disaster idea could be adapted.

“The real lightbulb moment for us was when we brought the original idea to our staff,” says Amy. “They unanimously agreed that a community-based model with private space was the missing piece” of the housing puzzle. That led to the shelter design that, in Amy’s words, “encourages people to come inside who would otherwise reject services.”

Community Focus

Pallet’s model is already bearing fruit. Since 2019, they’ve constructed thousands of sleeping cabins and are looking to build thousands more.

“We’ve built nearly 100 communities in 50 cities across the U.S.,” says Amy, “with 76 currently operating in 45 cities, seven in Washington alone. That’s one in five states!”

Building individual units is just one part of creating villages. To be effective, they have to offer more than just shelter. 24/7 onsite social services and public amenities—such as laundry and shower facilities—are essential to improving the quality of life for residents transitioning to permanent housing.

To deliver this, Pallet works closely with nonprofits and municipalities across the country.

“Our primary customers are public entities: cities, counties, states, and soon, federal agencies,” Amy tells me. “But we do sell shelters directly to nonprofits and faith-based groups to build the cabins themselves.”

Working closely with community-based partners is essential to success. “We’ve met hundreds of service providers across the country that are doing amazing work in their communities to serve those in need. And we always defer to them, since they know what’s best for their communities.”

Construction for Change volunteers assemble 20 Pallet shelters in Everett
Construction for Change volunteers assemble 20 Pallet shelters in Everett

Anywhere, Anytime

Pallet’s villages can be built in a wide range of locations and easily moved or dismantled. Because the villages are only active for a few months to a few years, they can be placed on vacant land before it’s permanently developed— making the cost of renting the land negligible.

Vertical integration makes Pallet products scalable and cost-effective, further bringing down the price of deployment. Each panel is fabricated in Pallet’s shop in Everett before being shipped to the site. According to Amy, they can fit 20 to 25 standard shelters, accessories included, in one 53-foot trailer.

Pallet cabins are built to last for up to ten years, pretty impressive for structures that can be built by two or three people in under an hour. Community rooms are a little more complicated, taking one to two days for assembly, and hygiene facilities must be connected to onsite services by licensed plumbers and electricians.

Depending on the needs of the customer, the deployment team can assemble the village in a matter of days, especially when partnering with local organizations like Conservation Corps or Team Rubicon.

Quality Assured

Before Pallet ships a cabin, customers are contractually required to meet five “dignity standards”: access to services, hygiene centers, food, transportation, and security for resident safety.

I asked Amy about organizations that can’t meet the requirements. “We have an in-house Advisory Services and Government Affairs team who will assist them,” she explains. “We also have a village success manager who travels around the country auditing our sites and serving as a partner to help them succeed in getting their residents’ needs addressed.”

“We’ve had the privilege of meeting hundreds of amazing service providers and are quickly learning how to assess their success. We’re constantly working with them to identify and share best practices and serve as a catalyst for collaboration and idea sharing.”

Private bathroom
and showers at the Pallet
village at Skagit First Step
Center in Burlington
Private bathroom and showers at the Pallet village at Skagit First Step Center in Burlington

Prioritizing People

Pallet has had a great run thus far and continues to grow. But Amy says there is still much to be done. “Pallet is not yet profitable due to very high growth in the last few years and investment in our ability to scale to serve as many communities as possible.”

“A public benefit corporation, Pallet’s profits are designated first and foremost to our mission,” says Amy, “which, beyond housing people, is providing living wage jobs to people that need them most in the communities in which we operate.”

Pallet currently has 105 full-time employees. Many of them (about 80%) have histories of homelessness, addiction, and/ or justice system involvement. To stabilize and help them break the cycle of poverty, Pallet offers health insurance, 401(k) plans, mental health support, on-the-job and life skills training, and other support.

This doesn’t just benefit their employees; it helps the construction industry as a whole, which continues to face a shortage of skilled workers.

“As demand for our product continues to grow, we plan to create more production facilities in cities across the country that have the highest rates of homelessness and recidivism to train the next generation of [the] manufacturing and construction workforce.”

Big Problems Require Many Solutions

Scalability is key to taking on a problem of such magnitude. The scale Pallet’s aiming for is epic. “In five to ten years,” says Amy, “Pallet will have a global presence and will offer products to meet the needs of international communities displaced by conflict, disaster, and poverty.”

This is no small order, and Amy encourages other companies to take up the challenge. In a recent interview with LA Currents, she declared, “We welcome competition in the space and want people to come up with more innovative ideas. We need more housing; everyone agrees with that.”

She tells me, “We recognize that the global housing crisis is too massive for Pallet alone to solve and hope to inspire and collaborate with other housing innovators to create housing technology that can overcome the many challenges of the regulatory and built environment.”

Pallet may not be able to take on homelessness alone, but if other innovators follow their path, one day everyone will have access to a home of their own—or at least take the first major step on their way.

Pallet has been building villages across the nation. Here’s a look at just a few of them.

Pallet West Los Angeles Veterans Administration

Giving Veterans a Helping Hand. This 110-unit village opened in the fall of 2021 on the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus, supported by several major donors, including former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 110 veterans the site can now support will receive direct VA health care services while transitioning to permanent housing.

Ten Villages in LA. Pallet and Los Angeles Conservation Corps erected ten shelter villages with a combined 1,282 units on unused plots of land. In partnership with local operators, the City of Los Angeles ensures provision of onsite services at all villages, including meals and showers, job training referral, and case management and mental health services."

Pallet and Los Angeles
Conservation Corps villages

Pallet Village at Lemuel
Shattuck Hospital in Boston

Keeping Warm in Boston. This 18-cabin village, constructed in 2021 at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Boston and overseen by the Commonwealth Care Alliance, provides warmth and shelter from harsh winter conditions plus behavioral health care, long-term housing search support, medication-assisted treatment, security, and several quality-of-life amenities.


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